2014 features stubbleahead

There may be stubble ahead

11 March 2014

The article at a glance

Faced with decreasing sales and a fundamental shift in behaviour among your core audience, what steps would you take to make a …

Category: Insight


Faced with decreasing sales and a fundamental shift in behaviour among your core audience, what steps would you take to make a change? We asked three people to put themselves in the shoes of Gillette, the men’s haircare specialists, who has seen its sales hit by the increasing number of men sporting beards (and in “Movember”, moustaches) on both sides of the Atlantic. In response, Gillette plans to capitalise on the growing trend of body shaving. But what would you do?

Mark Ramsdale – a USB on every electric razor

Mark Ramsdale

I’d consider how shaving’s changed. It used to be a chore – boring, functional, repetitive and necessary. Now, shaving’s just one part of the exciting new male grooming market. And although the shaving element of that market may be shrinking, the market as a whole certainly is not.

I think it’s more acceptable for men to look after their appearances these days. Professionally and personally, men are now free to depilate their faces and their bodies to make the most of their features, meaning more time and care is being spent on looking good. It’s acceptable to have a beard – but it has to be a well-kept beard. Crucially for Gillette, this means that men are prepared to spend more money on evermore sophisticated products and accessories.

Gillette has been eponymous with shaving since 1901. In my view, it should use that to become similarly well-known within this new, bigger, market. Movember’s not an obstacle – it’s an opportunity to develop a CSR strategy that supports a good cause and provides increased exposure to their target audience. To some extent, this has already happened when Movember joined Gillette on England’s Rugby League kit. How about specific limited-edition Movember shaving products, for example?

And I reckon that harnessing the male competitive instinct is a must. Men love sharing stats, whether it’s a personal best at running or how long they took to complete an Ironman challenge. Put a USB on every electric razor, or a wireless port. Get men to do competitive shaving and upload their shaving stats via an app. Who’s really got the closest shave?

Mark Ramsdale is a strategic communications and public affairs consultant, specialising in technology and sport, and an alumnus of the MPhil in Technology Policy.

Andreas Adamides – Target the trends: save the brand

Andreas Adamides

I really believe that facial hair is edgy now. It’s cool. That’s a big change from a few years ago. Yes, Gillette still has a massive chunk of the market. But it’s not leading. It’s following – and not very well. It needs to go where the trends are. Its website should be the destination for men, in the same way that GQ is an authority on men’s styling.

What would I do? I’d start with the website. Remember back in 1995, when people on multinational boards all over the world were blindly saying: “Guys, I think we need a website.” That’s Gillette’s website right now. Compare it to something like iTunes, which immerses you in the experience of buying music. Where are the videos, the cool tips, the fashion? It’s almost apologetic.

We all know the slogan: “The best a man can get.” So why not extend that brand essence outwards? Why does that have to be purely to do with shaving? Why can’t it be the best seats for the upcoming game or the best tickets for a hot gig?

So I’d say to Gillette: extend the brand by extending the product range, and you’ll also pull men following the current trend for facial hair into your market. For example, let’s see a new range of products for those men who are currently searching out niche brands of beard oil and moustache wax.

On its own this space isn’t big enough to be a huge money-spinner. But it could be part of a wider product range – hair styling, for example – that’s designed to show that Gillette knows what men want and it’s setting trends rather than following them. Just as Ted Baker has now entered the male styling products market with their “Ted’s Grooming Rooms”, it’s time for Gillette to start getting more agile and making some meaningful moves.

Andreas Adamides has 15 years’ experience as a director and CEO. He’s a serial entrepreneur, business advisor and e-commerce expert who recently completed a Cambridge Executive MBA.

Joe Gladstone – De-shame the body shave

Joe Gladstone

I’d start by thinking about body shaving itself. Most males probably shave some part of their body, but they just don’t admit to it. It’s not the sort of thing that you ask about when you’re down the pub with your mates. People are worried about being perceived as abnormal, as we have an innate desire to be accepted by others. So just as people under-report body shaving, they also underestimate the likelihood of others doing it.

With this in mind, I would tackle this business problem by applying academic insights from behavioural science on “social proofing” – how people generally conform to the behaviour of those around them. Messages can be much more persuasive when highlighting a “social norm”. In other words, if you think everyone else is doing something, you’re vastly more likely to do it.

Starting with a survey or research, I’d demonstrate that, contrary to popular wisdom, most males engage in some form of body shaving. I’d then use this message for a campaign designed to normalise and de-stigmatise this behaviour. This increase in popularity would help grow Gillette’s business, as consumers find new uses for their products.

We know from experiments conducted by Robert Cialdini and others that such social norm messages are even more effective when using a comparison group that people feel a strong identity with. For example, “Most men in the UK shave their body hair”, may be less effective than “Most young men in London…” So Gillette can personalise the message.

One of the obstacles is that there exists little advice on how to body shave (remember those judgemental friends down the pub?). So I’d set up a website, or use YouTube, and provide a simple explanation of body shaving. Gillette wouldn’t even need to brand this – it might de-legitimise the content. Instead, by just increasing people’s willingness to shave their body, they can rely on their market dominance to benefit from this behaviour change for many years to come.

Joe Gladstone is a PhD Candidate at CJBS, where he applies academic insights from behavioural economics and social psychology to understand and influence consumer financial decision-making.